The sounds of the battle on Friar Rock carried back across Greenthorne Lake to the Rebel ships. Bodies of the young girls and boys that had been hit by arrows floated lifelessly in the water. The marina echoed with screams of the injured as they slowly drowned or fell victim to their injuries.
Unable to aid and take care of those still alive, the boats began to pull away across the Lake to meet the remaining Rebel forces just below Friar Rock.
The sun was almost set now. Darkness began to creep in slowly when a boy, no more than seventeen, surfaced from the water below. He took in large breaths looking all around him at the absence of ships.
Growing up in a fishing town just above Sapphire Sea, he was a good swimmer. Without a second thought, the young Rebel soldier began to take after the ships, ignoring the screams behind him. But after a few strokes he realized his efforts were useless.
Scanning around, there were only his fallen comrades. He could maybe make it to shore, but it was at least a four mile swim. The marina was large.
Suddenly, something bobbing a few yards away caught his eye.
The boy swam over to a long wooden oar that had fallen off of one of the dingy boats on the Rebel ships. He grasped it underneath his arms, feeling a sense of relief, and began to kick towards the shore. The light was still slowly disappearing from the sky.
Keeping his eyes forward, he avoided the faces of his fellow soldiers. He didn't like the look people had in their eyes when they died.
The young rebel soldier was almost halfway to shore when he heard rustling around in the water. He squinted a few yards ahead of him, weary for a large creature patrolling the marina.
The boy was about to call out when he heard a voice.
He kicked closer, the lake only lit by the light of the moon.
Finally he could see two boys. One was larger than the other. The young Rebel soldier saw that they were both struggling to swim, trying to help each other.
"Hey!" he called out.
One of the boys shushed the other as he got closer.
"Hey!" he called again. "Grab on."
Now next to them, he could see their wide eyes, tired from exhaustion. They grabbed the oar and leaned over it, breathing hard.
The larger of the two was next to him. He looked up, barely visible by the light of the moon. "Thank you," said through ragged breaths. "What's your name?"
The young Rebel soldier looked at his fellow comrades, both of whom he did not know. "I'm Weston. Weston Greyson."
"I'm Kane. Kane Freid," the larger one said, holding out his hand for Weston to grasp.
"I'm Caspar Butez," the smaller boy said. "You can call me Cas."
Without saying anything all three of them began to kick towards the shore. The lake had finally gone silent.
Weston considered himself lucky. He also considered it lucky that he was so close to Kane and Cas. The thought of the other soldiers that could have been saved by the oar made him sick. He wondered how many of them were out there.
It took them almost an hour, but Weston eventually felt the Lake's floor beneath his feet. He lifted his head in relief, thanking the stars he was still alive.
The three young soldiers crawled onto the beach from the water and collapsed onto the bank. Still catching his breath, Weston looked up at the moon. It was full tonight, which meant the beginning of the new month. It also meant it was exactly 6 months since he'd been away from home; away from his mother.
Cas sat up and looked over the water. "How many do you think..." he trailed off.
"I don't know," Weston said, rising to his feet. "But we should try to find cover."
Kane rose as well, standing just a few inches taller than him. "We could camp right inside the trees. It'll cover us if it rains."
Weston nodded. "Let's walk the beach for some supplies."
Kane and Cas mumbled agreements and they began to scour the beach of Greenthorne Lake.
They found a few weapons and some dry clothes. Some of the other soldier's had boarded the ships in a haste, leaving a lot behind.
Cas found some food barrels and Kane discovered two survival packs.
After collecting the supplies, the boys headed for the tree line.
The trees of Greenthorne Forest grew tall and long, with the trunks completely bare twenty lengths up. The air was always thin, with almost nothing living there. There were Tree Fairies that inhabited some of the trees and Water Sprites that were scattered through the streams. Greenthorne Forest was also known as the location for the Hidden City; one that no one but the Elves knew the whereabouts of. It's where they hid from the rest of Calaria, taking solace in their isolation.
Eventually Kane went to find some firewood and Cas began to remove the contents of the travel packs. He set out some bedding as Weston inspected the food they'd found on the beach.
"We should be good for awhile," he said as Kane walked back into their campsite.
The tall blonde soldier set down the firewood and looked up. "So what's the plan?"
Weston gazed out between the trees across the water. "The supply ships docked on the western shore of the Lake. If we travel along the bank we'll make it there in a week's time."
Kane began to assemble the wood in front of them, preparing to start a fire. "What if we cut through the forest?"
Weston shrugged, running a hand through his damp black hair. "It could be shorter. If we want to risk it."
Cas looked through the trees deeper into the forest. "Is it safe?"
"It should be," Kane said, the fire finally starting to catch. "Not much lives in there."
Suddenly there was a snap from behind them. The three of them stood, brandishing the weapons they'd found on the beach.
The forest was completely still, until a small black ball of fur leapt onto a nearby rock, licking its paw unaffectedly.
They lowered their weapons.
"It's a Shifting Cat," Cas said, as two more came out from the shadows. One of them was large with orange and white fur, while the other was smaller, its coat purely white.
"I didn't think they liked Man," Cas said as the white one walked beneath his legs.
"They don't," said Kane, holding a hand out to the cat with white and orange fur. "They usually only attach themselves to Elves, sometimes Dwarves."
Weston said nothing, looking into the ominous eyes of the black feline.
"When do they shift?" Cas inquired, the white one now seated comfortable on his lap.
Kane shrugged. "It's hard to say. When they want to, I suppose. Usually when they're defensive, or threatened."
"I think I'll call him Spook," Cas said, smiling down at the white Shifter. Spook purred in delight and rolled over, showing his underbelly as a sign of enjoyment.
Kane scratched the top of the head of the larger one. "And I'll call you Tinker."
After a few moments, Weston looked back at the black, long-haired Shifting Cat. It's large yellow eyes stared back at him, reminding him of the full moon over them now.
"Moon," he said quietly.
The feline walked over and curled up next to his leg, signalling its approval.
"We should get some sleep," Kane said, setting out some of the bedding they retrieved from the banks of the lake. "We've got a long journey ahead of us."
The three Rebel soldiers stretched out on along the forest floor, the soft sounds of Greenthorne Forest lulling them to sleep. Soon Kane and Cas fell silent, their breaths slow and deep.
Weston put his hands behind his head, images of the battle still plaguing his mind.
It wasn't even a battle, really, he relented.
If he couldn't handle an aerial attack, how could he ever handle a real battle?
The young soldier sighed, gruffly. He looked up into the trees again at the stars, trying to clear his mind of such things. He reached up with his hands and mussed down his black hair over his ears, grazing his fingers at their slight point.
He wondered if they'd come across any Elves in the forest. The thought of it had him feeling conflicted. He knew nothing of his father, only that he was Elven and had fallen in love with his mother a long time ago.
Weston had always kept his lineage a secret at the urging of his mother. Even though he lived in the south, far away from the Dominion's rule, he never spoke of it to anyone.
Man did not and would not accept him, he knew that. But there was a part of him that wondered what the Elves would think of him. He had so many questions that his mother couldn't answer.
Eventually Moon walked over to him and curled up to his side, settling his thoughts.
Weston took in a deep breath and closed his eyes, finally finding the will to sleep.